Strap on Those Tights: The Boy Wonder Rides Again

In honor of what promises to be the most entertaining—or at least cringe-inducing—Vice Presidential debate in recent memory, please allow me to present a meditation on The Sidekick…The Second Banana…The Toady. I’m thinking specifically of the greatest Number Two of them all: Dick Grayson, orphaned ward of billionaire Bruce Wayne. Throw in a pair of tights and a domino mask and we’re talking about Robin, the Boy Wonder—the Scrappy Doo of crimefighting. The CW announced yesterday that they would be following up the success of Smallville with a new show focusing on Dick’s early years—in which “Dick” will henceforth be known as “DJ,” apparently. I suppose the initials sound edgier, but for some reason it makes me think of D.J. Tanner from Full House with a twist of BJ and the Bear, so if that’s what you were shooting for, nice job, CW.

In all fairness, the show might end up being decent, and possibly even good. The backstory established in the comics has it all: circus performer parents murdered by an evil mafia boss, then later a hot alien love interest, the switch over to Nightwing—all kinds of crazy stuff, not to mention the massive truckload of daddy issues burning like a red hot tire-fire at the heart of the Batman/Robin relationship. However, the character’s history in live action vehicles thus far is, well, dubious at best. He has been absent from Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, with Nolan stating that as long as he is directing the franchise, Robin will not make an appearance. Nolan has chosen instead to focus on Bruce Wayne’s childhood sweetheart, the nagging and perpetually sour-faced Rachel Dawes. Not necessarily a more entertaining choice, but one which serves to remind us how uber-butch Nolan’s Batman is, in keeping with his rippling physique and absurdly gravelly, “Step-into-a-Slim-Jim” patented BatGrowl.

The last time Robin graced the franchise on the big screen was in 1997’s Batman and Robin, the sequel to director Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. In both films, Robin is played as a petulant man-boy by Chris O’Donnell, best known for surviving the vicious onslaught of “Hoo-Ahs!” necessary for Al Pacino to batter the Academy into Oscar-surrendering submission in the nightmarish Scent of a Woman. Tim Burton, who might have actually done something interesting with the character, also gave him a pass when he revived the franchise, reportedly cutting the Boy Wonder out of an early draft of Batman Returns. Which brings us to the best-known incarnation of Robin/Dick/DJ/whatever: the one, the only, Mister Burt Ward, who camped it up beside Adam West in the much-beloved 1960s Batman television series and movie. Since 1966, it has been almost impossible to utilize any phrase beginning with “Holy…” without channeling the spirit of West’s preternaturally spunky, dimunitive cohort thanks to Ward, who is also known for recording a few tracks with Frank Zappa during the height of Batman-mania, losing the lead role in The Graduate to Dustin Hoffman, and publishing a seriously sleazy tell-all memoir, Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights in 1995.

All in all, not the most impressive pedigree for the Caped Crusader’s little buddy, but maybe the CW will be able to revamp, reconfigure, and redeem Robin (“DJ”?) for a new generation. He is, after all, pop culture’s Patron Saint of Sidekicks, pulling on those ridiculous tights and busting out those terrible one-liners on behalf of all the underappreciated and misunderstood Sancho Panzas, the Doctor Watsons, the Ed McMahons of this world. And on that note, enjoy the debate later…I can’t promise Batman-style fight graphics, but if there were any justice in this world, CNN would break out some “Bam!” “Bonk!” and “Kapow!” just for tonight.


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